Moore: Ranking Eastern Conference Futures After the Trade Deadline Arms Race

Feb 11, 2019 08:00 AM EST

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Bucks Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34), Sixers Guard Ben Simmons (25), Raptors Forward Kawhi Leonard (2), Celtics Guard Kyrie Irving (2).

  • After the trade deadline, the Eastern Conference is more stacked than ever with the Bucks, 76ers and Raptors making significant trades.
  • With the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors and 76ers all at +225 odds to win the East, which teams actually holds the most value?

The Bucks got better. The Raptors (theoretically) got better. The Sixers got better. The Celtics are biding their time. In the wake of the NBA trade deadline, the East became even closer, even better.

Honestly, given the dominance of the Warriors both historically and since the debut of DeMarcus Cousins, the race for the Eastern Conference title now stands as both the most compelling matchup for competitive purposes, and for those who like to bet NBA futures.

The Warriors are winning the title. We all know this. But the race for runner-up is genuinely compelling.

Let’s start by going over the moves, then look at the lines:

The Raptors traded Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a second-round pick for Marc Gasol.

The 76ers traded Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, the Heat’s 2021 unprotected pick and two second rounders for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott.

The Bucks traded Stanley Johnson, Jason Smith and multiple second-rounders for Nikola Mirotic.

After those moves, the Eastern Conference Title odds stand as follows:

  • Bucks: +225
  • Celtics: +225
  • Raptors: +225
  • Sixers: +225

Yup, we’re all even folks. So let’s start sorting this out to get the most value.

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Matchups, Matchups, Matchups

Let me take you back to this game: Celtics 117, Bucks 113 back on Nov. 1. In that game Al Horford scored 18 points on just 6-of-15 shooting, but was a plus-11.

For even more context, the Celtics led by 15 after three quarters, and Horford was a plus-13 on 6-of-12 shooting. Boston hit 24 three-pointers in that game, a testament to how it was able to space the Bucks out.

The takeaway from that game was that Milwaukee would struggle in the playoffs against small-ball lineups. Take a look at the loss to Toronto on Jan. 5. Brook Lopez was a minus-15, Serge Ibaka a game-high plus-19. This trend emerged.

Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9), Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13).

The Bucks are a nightmare when they have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lopez on the floor together this season. They outscore opponents by more than 11 points per 100 possessions with the two of them on the floor.

Typically when a team is so dependent on that kind of a wrinkle, it’s set in stone. Its best chance is to make what works for them succeed, and they are reluctant to change it. Mike Budenholzer’s teams in Atlanta had this same problem.

But then a funny thing happened.